Army, Reserves and women – questions of strength

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May 24, 1879, The Graphic, an illustrated weekly newspaper from London, considers the world.  Here are two articles – the first on the use of army Reserves and the second on the merits of women.  Both are topics being debated today.   The British government is reshaping its military including its reserve forces and the Pentagon is giving women a chance.  

IMG_0917OUR ARMY SYSTEM.- The short-service system, which was introduced by Lord Cardwell some years ago, has undoubtedly, as was intended, had the effect of making military service more popular.  “Once a soldier, always a soldier,” is no longer the stern motto, and the young labourer who is temporarily hard up, or who has been crossed in love, or who wants to see something of foreign parts, or who for some other reason desires to take the Queen’s shilling, can now enlist without feeling that he has entered into an irrevocable engagement with the God of War.  On the contrary, after a few years service – in some cases as few as three – he is allowed to pass into the Reserves, and, provided his character is good, his military training serves as a help rather than a hindrance to civilian employment.  But the new system is accompanied with disadvantages which the stress of war – even of such small wars as those in which we now are or have been lately engaged – makes clearly manifest.  One of these disadvantages is that the rank and file of the army is much younger than it used to be.  Men pass so quickly into the Reserves that old seasoned soldiers are rarities; and as, in selecting the drafts for Indian service, the troops showing the best stamina are naturally picked out, it follows that those left available for the Zulu emergency were for the most part boys, and, according to the testimony of numerous witnesses, are far inferior in physique and endurance to the savage warriors against whom they are pitted.  It seems that there is an antidote at hand against this over-juvenility. Plenty of the Reserve men, who are getting sixpence a day for the chance of their services being needed, would willingly volunteer for South Africa.  The Commander-in-Chief would be delighted to get them, but he cannot do so, because the Army Organisation Act of 1870 forbids the Reserves being called out, either collectively or individually, unless a “grave national emergency” be declared by Parliament or by Order in the Council.  Last year when it was supposed that we were going to war with Russia, such an emergency was proclaimed, and the Reserves, at the cost of immense personal suffering and inconvenience, were summoned to join the colours.  But meanwhile, owing to our clumsy legislation, which assuredly reflects no credit on either Lords or Commons, we cannot make use of the services of seasoned men who are willing to rejoin the army, and whom we are already subsidising with a round sum of money.   Any private employer who made such a blundering arrangement as this would be written down as a foolish person, and the oft-quoted saying of the Chancellor Oxenstiern seems to apply here:  “See, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed!”

FEMALE TELEGRAPH CLERKS.- Is it true, as rumour has it, that the Government is gradually shaping the telegraphic staff into a purely masculine mould?  No new female clerks, it is said, are admitted, and the places of those who from various causes resign are filled up by boys, who also are preferred for promotion rather than their lady comrades.  We cannot believe, as some ill-natured correspondent surmises, that the Government are doing this because men have votes and women have none; and that they hope, therefore, to secure the suffrages of the male telegraph-clerks at the next election.  We can understand the Government trying to win the Lancashire cotton-spinners, but we cannot imagine them committing an act of cruelty and injustice for the chance of getting  the votes of a few telegraph clerks.  The real fact, probably, is that in the Central Telegraph Offices women are not found equal to the strain of the work.  Long ago we were told that many of them succumbed.  Compared to some employments, eight hours a day may not seem long, but the nervous system of a woman is more delicately strung than that of man, and eight hours of continuous bustle and noise-of a particularly monotonous character, too – is enough to try the strength of the strongest.  These observations do not apply to private post and telegraphic offices, where, judging from some little experience, we venture to think that woman is especially in her element.  In the matter of intelligence, promptitude, and civility, we decidedly prefer her to her comrade of the sterner (sometimes very much sterner) sex.

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